New Yorker, May 20 2013
This was a great issue with more than a few worthy articles. A strong technology focus (apparently the “Innovators Issue“). Gears and conveyor belts and falling apples on the cover.
If the precrime unit in Minority Report can prevent crime with a mere three pre-cogs, why can’t the DHS prevent crime with all its resources? Maybe because calculating all the possible crimes that all the people on all the watchlists could commit is, as we say, computationally expensive. Narrowing it down to a subset of people, like people carrying backpacks in Boston (something that can only be done after the fact), does make it feasible. Is it fair to hold the security apparatus to the standard of preventing all attacks, or is solving them quickly a successful result? Since the apparatus has been pitched as “keeping us safe” (implying prevention), I think it’s fair to judge it on that basis, but I wonder how the criticism would change if the sales pitch changed as well. Interesting point at the end: Americans’ opinions have changed and in the latest Fox News survey, people are no longer willing to trade personal freedom to reduce the threat of terrorism.
Graham Hill (of lots of startups fame) has a tiny, tiny apartment, but it’s reconfigurable. His latest venture is like the Zipcar of apartments, where you have only the bare necessities in unit, but have access to a shared resources for parties. Most of the upscale apartment buildings I’ve been to already provide the large entertaining spaces, they just don’t make you live in a tiny box between parties. Some people may be enthusiastic, but I’m a little less excited to have an apartment where the way to get away from your spouse to make a private phone call is to flip a shelf down over the toilet and turn the bathroom into the den.
After Rana Plaza
Outsourcing is kinda great. Closely supervised outsourcing with a strong interest by the company in charge is really great.
The Walking Alive
What happens when you buy a treadmill desk: you feel compelled to announce to the world you have a treadmill desk. What happens when you sit: “Your metabolic rate drops to about one calorie a minute -- just slightly higher than if you were dead.” Hmm, so what if you’re one of those average 2000 calorie a day people? That works out to a little less than 1.4 calories per minute. How are we to determine that 1.0 calories is just slightly more than dead, but 1.4 is, presumably, significantly more than dead? Oh, it’s just hyperbole? Never mind, then. Sorry, stupid fitness facts are a pet peeve of mine.
Will your self driving Google Car also carry you up the stairs when you come home drunk?
Form and Fungus
I liked this article. Ecovative Design (apparently combining eco and innovative but perhaps not evocative?) makes packing and shipping protection by growing them out of a kind of mushroom gel squirted into a (not fungus) mold. Started at RPI, after an inventing class, they’re starting to take off now after lots of almost there false starts and the requisite pivot (from housing insulation). Hard to summarize, but a good read.
A catalog of stories about computer and network intrusions and the changes of the last decade. The legal and other difficulties that sometimes prevent law enforcement and the private sector from working together. Best summarized by a quote from the article, “I’m like a forest ranger and back in the day I used to deal with fires accidentally set by campers, but now I have to deal with arsonists.” Attacks are becoming more sophisticated and more targeted.
Inherit the Wind
Don Montague made a fortune selling wind surfing sails. Now he’s building flying windmills that circle around overhead, with only a modest tether instead of a massive tower to hold them aloft.
Everybody is getting in on the college internet boom. It starts with an introduction to a professor who teaches the large popular Classics lecture at Harvard, nicknamed Heroes for Zeroes. (At Stanford, the roughly equivalent class is Mummies for Dummies.) He’s making an online version of the class, but how do you grade essays from thousands of students? By making them multiple choice!
There’s a lot going on here, from decisions about what college is really all about to what happens to all the community college professors who get replaced by online videos. Personally, I’ve never felt college was just about the learning. Anyone who’s watched Good Will Hunting already knows you can learn everything they teach in college for $1.50 in library late fees.
What the article didn’t really address, which is more remarkable because they’re in the same issue, is the story of the start up at RPI. If RPI’s lectures were replaced by videos from MIT and Harvard, how would that have changed things?
Apropos OpenBSD (not really): The Classics lecture is punctuated by scenes from Blade Runner. “I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe.”
Killer feature for Google Glass: it flashes a warning to prevent you from saying something terribly awkward and tactless at a party. (Perhaps this feature is in fact only needed for people wearning Glass to a party? Ha!)
Killer feature #2: whenever somebody is about to say something like “Pop-pop (who’s dead) would never have approved” it shows the wearer what they would have approved.
Key opening: “We don’t live in the information age. That would be an insult to information, which, on some level, is supposed to inform.” We have solved the problem of missing subtlety in text by littering it with emoticons and other affordances. What the author wants now is a mask that he can wear and control so that he never lets inadvertent emotions slip out via his face.
All about Don Draper, even going so far as to compare him to the Island in Lost. Good point about how things were simpler when we knew he had secrets, but didn’t know what they were. “This is no longer the backstory of a serial adulterer; it’s the backstory of a serial killer.”
A review of Star Trek Into Darkness. How many Most. Epic. Climax. Ever. scenes are too many? Now we know the answer. I thought the movie was mostly great, but it was obviously approved by the same studio exec who felt The Lost World couldn’t have too many endings.
The Dark Arts
Fiction. Turned out to be a disappointment, but the opening was promising and filled with (to me) some really clever phrasing.